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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/26/2010

Talking with Idris Elba, star of 'Takers'

By Jen Chaney

Idris Elba, snapped at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington. (Photo by Jen Chaney)

Mention the name Idris Elba to most women and two potential reactions will follow.

The first: They may squeal, profess their love for the actor and/or start fluttering their hands to fan themselves.

The second: They might look puzzled for a moment while they try to recall who Elba is. Then, once they are reminded he played Stringer Bell on "The Wire" and Charles Miner on "The Office" and the stalked husband of Beyonce in "Obsessed," a look of recognition will cross their face ... which will immediately be followed by squealing, professions of love and hand-fluttering.

Elba -- a native of England who stars in the bank robbery movie "Takers," opening tomorrow -- is undeniably a sex symbol. But he's also an actor committed to taking on a variety of projects, a guy with an underground musical career as DJ Driis and someone still attempting to adjust to life as a lady magnet.

Elba was recently in D.C. to promote "Takers" and spent a few minutes chatting about his career -- including his decision to take on the role of Detective Alex Cross, his desire to return to "The Office" and why it might be best not to fawn over him early in the morning.

Your character in "Takers" is on the wrong side of the law, but in a different way from Stringer Bell. Still, do you pause when you're given any script that involves your character being involved in criminal activity because you're thinking, "I don't want to be Stringer Bell again"?

Yeah. And if I look back on my career, I haven't really repeated what Stringer has done. This character is, I guess, similar in the sense that he's a career criminal and he's a smart criminal. However, I don't believe the two are comparable. I mean, my guy [in "Takers"], he robs banks physically, which is a very different animal. But there's a certain sophistication to what he does, and him and his team, that really is quite impressive. If you're going to rob banks, then that's the way to do it, right?

I couldn't ever rob a bank -- I don't think I'm courageous enough or smart enough. ... It was quite appealing to me to see these guys are smart thieves. That was attractive to me.

Do you have heist movies that are among your favorites?

"The Italian Job" is one of my favorite heist movies. ... I like the "Ocean's" series. I think they're very smart. I love these films. They're big, ensemble, ballsy heist films that I think that -- it's sort of a suspend your imagination for a little bit. You want to be them for a second.

You got to work with some guys in this film who have music in their backgrounds, as do you. Did you ever trade musical notes with your co-stars T.I. and Chris Brown?

No, no.

Have 85 reporters asked you that already?

Um, yeah. A couple people have asked me that, yeah. T.I.P. and those guys really don't know that I do music. Amongst musicians, it's not really a known fact. Amongst my people that, you know, sort of like what I do and check out my blog and stuff like that, and my MySpace and all that, they can hear music all day. And they're aware that I've sold an EP, which you know, people bought.

But amongst musicians -- I worked with Beyonce, I worked with T.I.P. -- we never talked about music. It's a completely different thing with them. It's a big corporate thing and not only that, I'm a lot more underground in the artists I work with. My music doesn't really live in the top 40, it's very, sort of, underground. Eclectic almost, you know.

For that reason, do you keep it close to the vest on purpose?

Yeah. I don't make music for money, you know. If I did, I'd be broke. You know what I mean? I would be broke. I'd probably be homeless, too. I do it for a passion. So if I was to work with T.I.P. on something, that would be a big high-profile thing. Of course, because it's T.I.P. And I don't know if I fit into that, perhaps, you know.

I was looking at your Twitter feed and it appeared you were out last night [Aug. 9] in D.C. What were you doing?

I was DJing at this place called Eden, which is like an outdoor club, on the roof. I honestly just wanted to go and spin some records. Nothing too fancy, nothing too huge. It turned out, you know, like 600 people showed up.

Really?

It was really packed, yeah.

Was it a good time?

Yeah, I wasn't expecting all that. I had just done a long day of press and I just wanted to chill out with my boys and play a little music. It got a little hectic.

Is it really hard for you to just be able to chill out these days?

More and more, increasingly so. It's definitely harder to sort of, maneuver. I'm not famous. You know, people don't know my name. But they will recognize my face. "Morris Chestnut, right?"

I think you're underselling yourself a little bit. I think people know your name.

I mean, just in my day-to-day experience, they don't remember my name. Nine times out of 10, they're like, "What's his name again?" I hear it every single day. "Oh, I love you -- how do I say your name?"

Maybe that's what it is. They're afraid to mispronounce it.

(Laughs.) Maybe you're right. I don't have this sort of (adopts announcer's voice): Jamie FOXX! Denzel WASHington! Idris ELBA! It just sounds a little left.

I read that you might be cast as Alex Cross in some future movies. Is that true?

It's a rumor, and there is some truth to the rumor. [The casting information has been confirmed since this interview was conducted.]

Is that a part you're curious to do?

Yeah, I think it would be a really interesting series of films to do. I'm nervous obviously, because you know, Morgan Freeman -- he set the way for Alex Cross. But of course the books did, and then he did. If it was to happen, it would be quite -- I'd be proud to make it good. Really good.

You also just shot "Thor." What was that like?

Huge. Huge film, huge film. Kenneth Branagh has, like, really outdone himself as a director. I always liked him as a director. This is an epic film. This is going to be one of the biggest [films] Marvel has.

I'm sure everyone has been asking about this, too, but I have to ask out of curiosity: Has anyone reached out to you about coming back to "The Office"?

Yes, we've been talking about that. It's very much a possibility. I loved that character Charles, and I'd like to see him back. I like the opportunity to do comedy. I love comedy and I don't get a chance to do it too often. In that particular show, it's my type of humor. I was very fortunate to do it in the first place and I'd like to do some more.

Is that still an ongoing conversation and you're not sure when it will happen?

Yeah, it's a scheduling thing. Perhaps it may work, it may not.

Are you going to become the new Steve Carell?

You know, I don't know why people think that's going to happen. Like I'm funny enough. (Laughs.)

Well, I think people are just trying to find an answer. Some people are saying it's Ricky Gervais, some people are saying it's you. They're just latching on to whatever they can find.

Is Ricky coming back to do some?

There was some speculation about that. Then he wrote something on his blog about the potential two scenarios: one, that he would do the show again, and two, that he could just keep collecting money for not doing anything and not have to get up at 7 in the morning every day. "Which one sounds more plausible?" I took that as a no. But maybe he'll do something small.

(Elba laughs.)

Ricky Gervais is a fan of "The Wire," a huge fan of "The Wire." So in an ideal world it would be Charles Miner, Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell and, you know, some crazy little shenanigans we could get into.

Do you know Ricky Gervais?

I've met him once or twice. So that would be fun.

When we talked on the phone last year, we talked a lot about your sex-symbol status and how you were processing that. A year's gone by. Are you processing it differently now?

If I remember the conversation. I remember saying to you, you know, I try not to take it on board and I'm still not trying to take it on board. But one of the things that has changed is that I realize its worth as it comes to, sort of, advancement as an actor, you know what I mean? Being asked, for example, to play Laura Linney's love interest in "The Big C" -- I mean, you know, I had to think it's paid off in some weird way. You know what I mean?

Laura Linney thinks I'm sexy, she wants me to be her love interest -- great! I'm in. I would love to work with her and I did, and it was phenomenal. You know, sex sells. I don't think I'm sexy to everyone, but someone out there says, "Oh, he's attractive" or what not.

It's a weird thing to process. I'm a regular dude as far as I'm concerned. I'm just Idris. Like I'm really moody in the morning, for example. So this morning I walked into this TV station and just thought, "I'm not in the mood to talk to anyone." But you know -- makeup, I brought my cigarette, I'm all right. And there's all these ladies there and they're like, "Oh my God, you're so --"

And I felt so bad. Because whatever they thought I was, I was [bleeping] not. I was just looking at them like, [bleep] off, leave me alone. You know what I mean? That's not sexy. The pressure is, do I kind of go, "Hey!" and put on a great smile for them? Or do I just be me? It's that little but of a dilemma sometimes.

Right. But it is, as you said, a ticket in a way because it can get your foot in the door to something that gives you the opportunity to stretch as an actor.

Yeah.

And you really are getting to do a lot of different things: "Takers." "The C Word." "Thor."

Yeah, it's a bit of a mix. No, I'm very fortunate in terms of my mix of stuff that I do. But that was always my goal, ever since I was 19. I never wanted to do the same thing twice. I'm a big believer in, think it, say it, do it. And here it is, you know?

By Jen Chaney  | August 26, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Movies  | Tags:  Q&As  
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Comments

Idris Elba was in town. I didn't go to see it. To do list: dislodge window, jump out. Clean scraps from the meek ground level fall. Go upstairs. Repeat.

Posted by: ileschinder | August 26, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

It's times like these I want Jen's job. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: lydandy | August 26, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I said it before and I'll say it now: MUCH better choice for Alex Cross.

Morgan Freeman is awesome, of course, but Alex Cross is supposed to be a younger, well-built, sexy African American man. Morgan is not young, he's lanky, not muscled, and while he makes an effective god figure, I don't know that sexy is the first word that springs to mind when you hear his name.

Idris Elba is damn close to the mental picture of Alex Cross I always had in my head and he's a wonderful choice to play the heroic but sweet character.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | August 26, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you, Chasmosaur1, I love Morgan Freeman, but I think Idris Elba will make a damn good Alex Cross. Denzel would have been a good choice too but since he was already Lincoln Rhyme, I don't think that would work.

Posted by: itsme1 | August 26, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

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